Typically when an athlete ends up on the satirical website Deadspin, it’s a bad thing. But when Wild forward Charlie Coyle’s interaction with a young fan landed on the site, and pretty much everywhere else online, it was for all the right reasons, as a heartwarming moment between a professional athlete and a star-struck youngster.
It was only a quick smile and wave, but the gesture soon went viral.
During warmups before the Wild faced the San Jose Sharks on Sunday, Coyle waved to the young fan, and as you can see from the video above, his reaction was priceless. The Internet then went to work, first through a tweet, then on reddit, the full video and finally immortalized as a GIF. The Wave was even the subject of the Overtime on NHL Live.
Foreseeing a moment that will go viral is like trying to predict the weather in Minnesota, but the vid had a lot of moving parts to capture the moment.
The youngster, Henry, was in attendance with the Shakopee Hockey Association, his father, Jason, and sister, Madeline. They almost didn’t attend because of the snow, but the lure of watching the Wild brought them to the game that night. But the family got there early so the six-year-old and his sister could get an up-close look at the Wild during warm-ups.
“I was behind them (when Henry was tapping on the glass),” Jason said. “I saw the camera guy, but never in a million years did I think it would be on TV. They showed it between the first and second periods, and midway through the second we got a text from my sister in law.”
That cameraman was Jim Schmitt, who regularly operates cameras for FOX Sports North broadcasts. A veteran of sports television, Pat O’Connor, was directing the game that night. O’Connor, who also is a producer for Becoming Wild, tries to capture the atmosphere of sporting events and catch little details to give viewers an intimate feel for the event, noticed the interaction immediately.
"Jim always does a great job capturing the flavor and atmosphere of every event he works,” O’Connor said. “Ted Allaire, who runs the replays on many broadcasts that I direct throughout the year, is right on the same page as Jim, always looking for those special moments outside the framework of play."
Coyle didn’t put a whole lot of thought into the wave. As a child, his mother, Theresa, always told him meet someone new everyday and that lesson stuck—even as he focused before an NHL game.
“During warm-ups there are always little kids right there, and you’re focused and doing your thing,” Coyle said. “I think I saw him out of the corner of my eye so I just turned (and waved). It was something so simple to take a second out of my day to do.”
An unassuming moment that might’ve been cast aside was captured by Schmitt and was soon making the rounds online in various forms. But Coyle didn’t initially see the gaping smile that he gave little Henry.
“It was pretty cool to see,” Coyle said. “I didn’t know he had such a priceless reaction when it first happened." (Check out the video below, a WildTV exclusive of Coyle discussing The Wave).
At only 21, the big forward isn’t that far removed from a childhood of idolizing sports stars and believes those kinds of connections can leave a lasting impression.
“I can remember going back to my younger days, being a little kid in that same situation,” Coyle said. “I thought it would’ve been pretty cool if someone would glance over at me or give me a little wave.
Luckily for all of us, the cameras were rolling during this genuine moment. In today’s troll-happy online world where negative words can flood Twitter feeds like a burst pipe in a basement, it was the kind of positive story that can instantly bring cheer to the sourest of moods.
“It started as one kind gesture from one kind man to one little kid, and it ended up putting smiles on faces all around the world,” O’Connor said. “As a television director, these are exactly the types of moments that you strive to capture and share with the viewers.”
It was a candid moment that showed a human side of a professional athlete. O’Connor got to know Coyle when he was in his hometown of East Weymouth, Mass., and saw the young man underneath the armor of hockey equipment that fans don’t often get to witness.
“It is great to see how much coverage the Coyle-waving-to-the-kid video is getting all across the Internet,” O’Connor said. “Now even the people outside of Minnesota can see what a top-notch, quality human being that Charlie Coyle is.”
While you can’t count on when the next Internet meme will blow up, you can count on Coyle to continue to make a positive impact both on and off the ice.
“I think it’s a good lesson to learn: a simple thing like that can go along way with someone.”
WildTV exclusive of Coyle discussing The Wave: